You have to love it.
Yes, that’s my maternal great-grandfather, John Hampton Christison. See my posts Family stories 2 — About the Christisons; John Hampton Christison in South Africa; South African War and my family…; Scans worth preserving–5: Christisons 1–my mother’s family; and posts by my cousin Ray Hampton Christison — My Great Grandfather and the South African War; Tam o’ Shanter.
Ray is the real historian in the family. Just this last week he had the great experience of travelling to Maitland NSW – see the local paper.
The life and times of champion Maitland dancer John Hampton Christison are morally dubious to say the least.
To the public the Scotland native was a highly acclaimed dancer who arrived in the Hunter region in the late 1870s where he proceeded to thrill Maitland audiences with his spectacular exhibition dances and taught hundreds of locals to dance.
But the public persona of this larger-than-life character masked some secrets and puzzles, and his time in Maitland was marked by sudden disappearances, parallel careers and long absences interstate and overseas.
Next week Ray Christison will reveal his great-grandfather’s secrets during a Maitland City Library Look Who’s Talking local history event.
Titled Fancy Footwork, the presentation will tell the tale of Professor Christison’s checkered life which included bankruptcy, adultery, cruelty and kidnapping.
“Through researching and organising this event, a spellbinding identity in Maitland’s cultural history has been unearthed,” Maitland City Council heritage officer Clare James said.
The Hunter Folk Dancers will re-enact the 1880s John Gilles Quadrille – choreographed by Professor Christison – during the event.
John Gilles was mayor of Maitland at that time.
“Dance is literally at the heart of Maitland, with the Maitland Town Hall boasting a sprung floor, now a rare facility in Australia,” Ms James said.
“With a strong interest in dance across all age groups, we thought it was time for us to delve a little deeper into what is clearly a strong tradition in Maitland.”
Fancy Footwork will be held at Maitland Gaol on Thursday, October 10, at 6pm.
Ray writes: The Hunter Folk Dancers performing the Quadrille de Jean Gilles written by my great grandfather.
Back around ten years ago when I first posted on the Christisons as part of a family series I was doing I was contacted by Karly Morgan, now a Facebook friend, who is descended from John’s daughter Isobel Hampton Christison (1887-1972) – whom I had met and from whom came my copy of her father’s photo above. Karly passed on some information that I now repeat:
More pieces in the puzzle, thanks to Karly Morgan, a descendant of Isobel, my grandfather Roy’s sister. One of Isobel’s daughters tells this story:
John Christison was a member of the Gordon Highlanders before he came to Australia. He paid two pound to pay his way out of the regiment and joined a ship’s crew to pay his way to Australia.
When Sophia (pic on the right) and John were newly married they lived at Clarence Town and owned a vineyard at Hinton (near Maitland). John taught highland dancing at night in Maitland. He also later taught in a private school. They went to Scotland when nanny was 2 years old and remained there until she was 6. John received the highest medal possible for his dancing and danced before the Queen, (Victoria). When they were coming back to Australia Sophia was on the boat with her four children when John refused to board the boat. So she sailed here on her own* and went to live with her parents, George and Mary Lillie. John Christison returned to Australia on the next available boat and kidnapped his two sons from school, in Sydney [that’s the other son, David, on the left], and took them to his parent’s house in Mittagong. The police were called and the boys were returned to their mother. John Christison remarried in Rose Bay, Sydney, and he had two children by that marriage.
A bit of a contradiction there about John’s second marriage though. In one of the memoirs my mother left to me, she adds:
[In 1906] Dad (Roy) completed his training at the age of 20 and his first school was a very small place called Spencer on the Hawkesbury River. It was 11 miles down river from Brooklyn Railway Station. In those days it was only accessible by water so Dad was met and rowed by one of the fishermen’s mother to his place of “work”. He was one of the luckier ones because he had his mother (Sophia) who at a young age had been left to shoulder the responsibility of bringing up her family alone. To do this she took in boarders and herself, a very refined lady, went out to work starting at 3 am to scrub and clean office buildings in the city. With two of her children married and the youngest daughter able to stay with her married sister it left Gran free to go with Dad to become his housekeeper. He felt he owed her his help and care now he was in a position to give it to her. I think his wages were about nine pound a month. He was able to rent a sort of cottage — slab built…
And that story will form another page later on, but you will see my grandfather had an exciting childhood.
* My mother told me that during World War II Sophia told her the whole story, very late at night, but my mother’s mind was on babies (me probably) and a husband and brothers at war, so she didn’t really listen… I do recall my mother telling me though that the real reason Sophia left so precipitously was that she had seen something quite dreadful. I have given a hint above by using the word “Byronic”. By the way, I remember Sophia, just; she died when I was nine, the same year as my sister.
See also Mainly family, a 2011 post with a very good comment thread.
Maitland Mercury 1887
If you read this post, Ray, remind me what you found about the story, repeated above and deriving ultimately from Great-Aunt Isobel, that JH was a Gordon Highlander. And do you know anything about the story that he danced before Queen Victoria?
I hope Ray’s talk finds publication in some form.